By Jase Peeples
Originally published on Advocate.com June 05 2014 5:30 AM ET
As part of one of the most famous families in entertainment, La Toya Jackson may have been destined to be a pop culture icon from the moment she first appeared with her siblings in the 1976 variety TV show The Jacksons. But it’s been her ability to persevere in the face of adversity — escaping an abusive relationship with her ex-husband, mending her strained relationship with her family after being exiled, and willingness to stand up for LGBT equality long before it was accepted by the mainstream — that gained the entertainer a loyal gay fan base.
These were only a few of the reasons Jackson was invited to be a celebrity grand marshal at the 2013 San Diego Pride festival, where she and thousands of others celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Proposition 8 and a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act, just a few short weeks prior. That was where she witnessed a same-sex wedding for the first time, and was overcome with joy.
“You fight for equal rights and you fight for what you want in life, but to actually see a moment like that come to fruition — it was so amazing to me,” she says. “To actually see that wedding take place and to see the freedom that [some people] now have — my heart sang.”
The joy Jackson felt as she watched a same-sex couple legally say “I do” for the first time — which will air when her docu-series Life With La Toya returns with new episodes on Saturday on OWN — isn’t something the singer says sprang from an evolved point of view. Despite being raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, marriage equality and equal rights for LGBT people has never been a question for her.
“I’ve always felt this way,” she says, adding that delightfully unmistakable giggle before her voice shifts into a more serious tone. “I’ve always felt that there’s enough hatred in the world. If two people can find each other and they love each other — whether that’s a man and a man, a female and a female, or a male and a female — so be it. Why not embrace each other and get married? Let them live and enjoy it, because life is too short.”
Toy — as she’s called by those closest to her — doesn’t hide her irritation with antigay bigotry when asked if she’s surprised to see the rapidly increasing amount of LGBT visibility in entertainment.
“I think it’s something that should have been done a long time ago and it’s a shame that we’ve had to wait to get this far,” she says, before adding, “but we should also be grateful and thankful that we are there and I know it only gets better from here… because people are more open-minded today. It’s so different than the way it was years ago and I think that’s because we’re putting it out there.”
But Jackson hasn’t only been “putting it out there” on behalf of the LGBT population; she’s been facing demons of her own as a survivor of domestic abuse through her TV series since it debuted last year in hopes of inspiring others who have endured similar experiences. It’s a process she says viewers will continue to see unfold throughout the show’s new season as well. She agreed to have her sessions with a therapist recorded for the show’s new season when she decided to further confront her fears of intimacy and the emotional scars which were a result of horrors she faced during her seven-year marriage to her abusive ex-husband.
“I’ve always had a problem with people invading my privacy and being touched by people and expressing things like that… it was embarrassing for me in the beginning,” Jackson says, adding the idea of “going through therapy before the world” initially “terrified” her. “But then [a friend told me], “Toy, there’s no reason for you to be embarrassed about it. A lot of people go through this and you’re going to help a lot of people by letting them know that this is who you are, this is what you’re going through, and this is what you’ve been through. And look at you now, you’ve changed. You’re different now.”
In addition to giving people the chance to learn “who I really am,” Jackson says sharing her story in hopes of encouraging others was one of the primary reasons she agreed to open up her life for a reality series. “I wanted people to see what I was doing and know you can own yourself and do whatever you want.”
Life With La Toya airs Saturdays at 10 p.m. / 9 p.m. Central on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. Watch the first five minutes of this Saturday’s episode below.